Comedy and History: Making Truth a Bit Funnier

Goodbye Lenin is a film which was first released at the 2003 Berlin Film Festival where it was hailed as a great cinematic accomplishment, one which provided insight into a major event in European history as well as social and political issues surrounding that time period. The heart-warming film was so successful in its debut that it earned more money in Germany than the Harry Potter films did in their first month. The title of the film reflects the changing political landscape of the time, with the official sendoff of Soviet influence and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Wolfgang Becker decided to rely upon Rip Van Winkle satire to follow the story of a single man trying to make history, but with time forced to stand still in order to protect his mother from the truth. The story takes places in 1989, the anniversary of the German Democratic Republic. Alex, the main character, is 22 and lives with his sister Ariane and his mother Christiana in East Germany. His father defected to West Germany ten years prior. Christiana is a highly regarded member of the Socialist party and a heavily involved political activist.

She witnesses her son at an anti-government demonstration the shock of which causes a heart attack and a subsequent coma. She remains in a coma for 8 months. While she is in a coma the political landscape of Germany begins to change; the Berlin Wall has come down, the East German government has been shut down and capitalism has invaded from West Germany.

In an unfortunate turn of events, waking from her coma has brought with it the recommendation by her physicians that no shocking information be revealed lest it cause a relapse. This includes any knowledge about the changes to the political landscape or references to the new government. With this in mind, the family sets out to keep the spirit of the German Democratic Republic alive within their apartment. They mix emotional scenes with farcical stunts to explain away the glimpses of the Western world which Christiana can see. The result of these efforts leaves Christiana in blissful ignorance of the changes to Germany until the end.

As the film comes to an end, Alex and his family are ready for a new and exciting life. Their future is limitless with opportunities to move, get jobs, and maintain possibly better lives than those of their parents. Some critics have argued against the longevity of the film, stating that the story was dragged out longer than it was needed. That said, a counterargument poses that the effect of the film might have been lost with any of the intermediary content cut out.

The Use of Comedy

That being said, in spite of the heavy political turmoil in the plot, it is not all heavy. Throughout this film there are many opportunities for comedy, not all political changes and turmoil. As Alex attempts to recreate and maintain a miniature East Germany for his mother, there are several uses of farce and slapstick comedy as the ludicrous plans are attempted. These plans are made even funnier when set against the backdrop of a city in political turmoil. This is evidenced by one scene in particular, where Alex attempts to reproduce the GDR news bulletins to play to his bedridden mother. To do this, he takes new reports which explain the glimpses of capitalism his mother has already seen and twists the reality such that the story she hears is a manufactured recording of westerners rushing over to East Berlin having heard about the potential benefits of the Socialist system.

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